The Secession was formed in 1897 by a group of 19 Vienna artists who had resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists, housed in the Vienna Künstlerhaus. The first president of the Secession was Gustav Klimt. The artists objected to the prevailing conservatism of the Vienna Künstlerhaus with its traditional orientation toward Historicism.
Ernst Klimt, who had married Helene Flöge, died at the end of 1892. Gustav assumed the financial responsibility for his brother’s widow, and since Helene’s father was a successful business man, this gave him entry to the ranks of a respectable middle class family. Klimt soon began a life-long friendship with Helene’s sister Emilie.
Above: The Bride, 1917.
Center: Adam and Eve, 1917
Right: Gustav Klimt, 1917
The Bride and Adam and Eve are two of Klimt’s unfinished pieces. Photos of Klimt’s studio show the huge unfinished canvas for The Bride on the easel. Although it marks a return to allegory, where he started his career 30 years before, this piece reveals linear and color adaptations from Expressionism, which he was beginning to use freely in order to develop a new esthetic.
Top: Company label for the "Floge sisters".
Below: Gustav Klimt and Emilie Floge, 1905.
Left: Certificate of attendance at the Vienna Arts and Crafts School, 1879.
Right: Panorama of Vienna, seen from the South, circa 1873.
At school Klimt’s talent was judged remarkable. A relative advised his mother he should apply for a place at the School of Arts and Crafts. Klimt passed the examination with distinction and in October 1876, at the age of fourteen, he began his studies.
View of Room “A” in the Vienna Secession with the Beethoven Frieze.
Above left: Gustav Klimt and Emilie Floge, circa 1894.
Above right: Emilie Floge in her fashion salon, circa 1910.
Left: Emilie Flöge in a summer dress designed by Klimt, 1907.
The Secession’s fourteenth exhibition was celebrated in honor of Max Klinger, whose sculpture of Beethoven was the focus of the event. Klimt and his friends saw in Beethoven the incarnation of a genius and in his work the glorification of love and self-sacrifice, capable of saving Humankind. For the exhibition Klimt painted his Beethoven frieze, arguably his masterpiece.
Above: Professor Ferdinand Laufberger's class at the Vienna Arts and Crafts School. Front row: Ferdinand Laufberger, Gustav and Ernst Klimt.
Right: Emperor Franz Joseph I, 1898.
In this painting, one of Klimt’s most famous works, Adele Bloch-Bauer, wife of an industrialist and Klimt’s long-term lover, is almost completely subdued by the weight of ornament around her. Produced at the height of Klimt’s “Golden Period”, the portrait shows the subject at one with her surroundings, as though fabricated by the artist and molded into his setting.
Left: Gustav Klimt's funeral on February 9th, 1918.
Above left: Klimt's grave at Hietzing cemetery.
Right: Klimt's death mask.
While getting dressed in his room on January 11, 1918, Klimt suffered a stroke. Less than a month later, Klimt fell victim to the pneumonia epidemic ravaging Vienna at the time and died on February 6, 1918. He was buried in Hietzing cemetery. The state donated the grave and the ceremony was attended by many national and municipal representatives.
Gustav’s younger brother Ernst joined Klimt’s painting class and they soon befriended Franz Matsch. Gustav and Matsch were highly regarded by their teachers who considered them good enough to recommend them for paid work outside school. This eventually led to the imperial commission of 1886 to paint the staircase of the newly built Burgtheater.
Left: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.
Above: Study for the same painting.
Right: Gustav Klimt, 1908
His Life & Work
Far left: Franz Matsch (seated) and Ernst Klimt, in costume for the ceiling painting (Above) of the Burgtheater in Vienna, circa 1886.
Below: The Burgtheater.
The first imperial commission – the decoration of the staircases in the Burgtheater – brought the Klimt brothers and Matsch praise, recognition and fortune. The work lasted two whole years, from 1886 to 1888, and the Klimt sisters and the artists themselves acted as models.
Above: Linzerstrasse, the house where Gustav Klimt was born.
Right: A Viennese mailman, circa 1860.
Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, a suburb to the south-west of Vienna, on July 14, 1862. Gustav, the second of seven children, displayed obvious artistic gifts from an early age. His younger brother Ernst was also a talented painter, and their youngest brother Georg was a consummate craftsman in metalwork.
Right: Stoclet Palace.
Above: The Stoclet frieze.
The Palais Stoclet in Brussells is the only remaining house decorated by Klimt. This work suggests strong Japanese influence, with its Oriental facial characteristics and kimono-like robes. The ornate dresses are densely filled with geometric abstract schemes, a deliberate counterbalance to the organic Tree of Life swirls which stretched the whole lenght of the dining room walls.
A Historical Perspective
Above: Joseph Maria Olbrich (left) a stranger, Kolo Moser, and Gustav Klimt in Fritz Waerndorfer's garden.
Right: Group portrait at the fourteenth Secession exhibition. Klimt sits on a chair and Kolo Moser sits in front of him.
Far right: Joseph Maria Olbrich's poster for the second Secession exhibition.
The exhibition’s opening ceremony included the fourth part of the Ninth Symphony, directed by Gustav Mahler, director of the Opera of Vienna. Klimt painted the Beethoven’s Frieze. The frieze was planned to remain only for the length of the exposition and was thus painted directly on the wall with light materials that could easily be removed. Fortunately, Klimt's work was perserved.
Klimt had been questioning the meaning of life. This frieze tries to answer his questions through the depiction of humankind’s salvation by the unique power of art and love.
The Stoclet Frieze was the last wall Klimt decorated. The industrialist Adolphe Stoclet commissioned Klimt and Hoffman a “palace” in Brussels. Klimt designed a three-part mosaic of marble adorned with gold enamel and precious stones. This teamwork was a milestone in the history of art and became the creed of the 1920s Bauhaus movement as well as of Russian Constructivism. The difference with Constructivism and artists such as Le Corbusier, was that they offered their theories to serve the people, while Hoffman and Klimt could only work with patrons.
Fullfilment, detail for the frieze at the Palace Stoclet in Brussels, 1905-1909
A very important part of the Secession’s program was the emphasis on architecture and its insistence on the equality of all other arts. Many of the movement’s members were architects and designers and many of them were talented in painting, illustration, typography, and furniture and textiles design. Their versatility and interest in the unifying effects of style were patent in all forms of expression of the Secession.
Each of the Secession’s exhibitions was a “a total work of art”. This term, invented by Richard Wagner, expressed the notion of a synthetic form of art that is larger than the sum of its parts.
Klimt’s utopic generation believed that only art could save people, thus the period’s tendency for uniting art. This idea motivated the Secession to make its XIV exposition a united work of art. The exposition was celebrated in 1902 in honor of Max Klinger, whose sculpture of Beethoven was the focus of the event. The whole exposition became an homage to Ludwig van Beethoven, a glorified musician in those years. Klimt and his friends saw in Beethoven the incarnation of a genius and in his work the glorification of the love and self-sacrifice capable of saving Humankind.
Detail of the Beethoven Frieze, 1902
The Secession adopted Pallas Athene as their protectress. In this painting new elements such as the use of gold and the transformation of anatomy into ornament will determine Klimt’s later work.
“Our Secession is not a confrontation of young artists against old ones, but a struggle to revalue artists against hawkers that make believe they are artists and that have a commercial interest in preventing art from flourishing.” This declaration by Hermann Bahr, intellectual godfather of the Secessionists, served as an emblem for the foundation of the Viennese Secession in 1897, which was presided by Klimt.
The Viennese Secession played a central role in the development and diffusion of Modernism in painting and in the field of applied arts as a stylistic countercurrent against the official academic school and bourgeois conservatism of the time. This rebellion was so powerful its immediate success was translated into a utopic enterprise: the transformation of society through art.
Klimt was a regular collaborator in the Secession magazine Ver Sacrum. The movement enabled the construction of the building for the Secession, designed by the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich.
Cover for Ver Sacrum, the Secession magazine, 1898
Klimt also worked on the motif of the embraced couple later on with his famous painting The Kiss, the most important work of his ‘golden phase’ and the emblem of the Secession. It has been compared to the Mona Lisa, as both exert a similar fascination. This time, the man clearly dominates and takes the initiative in the kiss. The woman seems to bear it with resignation. The enveloping robe subtracts force to the painting’s sexual representation, transforming the taboo of the kiss into a version that not only escaped potential critics, but also conquers the public’s enthusiasm and the puritanical bourgeoisie’s acceptance.
Klimt´s “golden age” began with the Portrait of Fritza Riedler, painted in 1906, and ended with Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted in 1907. The latter is the culmination of this phase. There is no doubt that Klimt was conscious of the dangers an overwhelming decoration could mean for his paintings. However, these feminine portraits in gold belong to one of the most important representations of women in his work.
Klimt began to doubt during these years. The Secession, the harmony of the arts, had proven an utopia. He began to see the concept as old-fashioned, no longer the ideal, and decided to abandon the Secession.
Klimt’s golden style lost its luster with the beginning of Expressionism, since the use of gold forced a rigid stylization that made any psychological expression impossible. He was greatly impressed with the 1909 exposition, where Munch, Bonnard and Matisse demonstrated their vast expressive palette. He also traveled to Paris where he discovered Lautrec and the Fauvists. These discoveries put his mind into action and enabled him to achieve the magical synthesis of his later kaleidoscopic work. Once more, Klimt demonstrated his amazing ability to change.
This new style is manifested in portraits such as that of Mäda Primavesi, a young woman that corresponds to Klimt’s new idea of what is feminine: the mixture of women and floral ornaments. The Dancer is the height of this new style.
After his mother’s death, Klimt began to ponder his own age and the closeness of death and began working once again with these themes. His painting Death and Life won first price at an international exhibition in Rome, evidence that his work was still highly regarded.
From the dawn of the 20th Century until his death in 1918, Gustav Klimt was the most prominent figure in the art world of the capital of the empire of Austro-Hungary. This was Vienna, the city of Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and Stefan Zweig; the Vienna of the great Austrian waltzes and the Belle Époque; a city that rivaled London and even Paris for its cultural force and artistic quality and diversity. This was the Vienna of Gustav Klimt, the city the artist loved and rarely ever left...
Top: Study for The Kiss
Bottom: The Kiss, 1907-1908
Death and Life, 1916
Self-portrait as genitalia, circa 1900
Klimt’s work exemplifies the encounter between the old art of the previous century and the new art of the XXth century. One of his greatest contributions to the new era was, more than Expressionism and Surrealism, a very important theme: sexuality in art. Klimt based his work on the theme of sexuality. He painted Eva, the woman par excellence, in every imaginable erotic position. Eva seduces with her body, she exposes herself in Nuda Veritas, giving life to a femme fatale. Klimt represents her in his portraits of the Viennese, as well as in paintings of Judith, Danae and in innumerable young nameless women, such as The Virgin.
His world was constantly inhabited by pollen, pistils, semen and ovules. His work was celebrated and he even became women’s favorite portraitist, and yet, the open eroticism of his work clashed with the hypocritical Victorian repression. So, under an appearance of respectability, Klimt cleverly painted what interested him most: women’s maddening eroticism. Intiguingly, he painted women nude before covering them with clothes. This secret was revealed after his death when his last painting, The Bride, was discovered.
Klimt was not only an expert on femmes fatales. While creating controversy with his paintings in the University, Klimt also painted landscapes based on the work of the Impressionists, even though he was not interested in time’s play of lights and shadows. Klimt built his enameled mosaics, as he did in his portraits, mixing naturalism and modernism.
This new style is confirmed when comparing paintings such as After the Rain, Birch Wood, or Portrait of Emilie Flöge.
Klimt found his way to landscape painting late in life. The first known landscapes date from the years 1898-1900. Strangely, Klimt did not draw sketches or studies for his landscapes, as he did for his portraits and allegories, even though he was a studio painter. Apparently landscapes were for Klimt an opportunity for calm and meditation. It was a theme he greatly enjoyed: 54 of his 230 paintings are landscapes. The Kammer Palace of Lake Attersee and the Cassone Church exerted a special fascination on him, since it was here that he could study the problem of including architecture in landscapes.
Top: Drawing for the initial G
Bottom: Ernst Klimt senior
Top: Schloss Kammer on the Attersee, 1910
Bottom: Portrait of Emilie Floge, 1902
Born on July 14, 1862 in Baumgarten, near Vienna, Gustav Klimt was the second of seven children of a meticulous engraver and carver. His brother Ernst, who could have been as talented as Gustav had he not died so young, worked with his brother until his death. His brother Georg was a talented sculptor, carver and designer who made many of the frames for Gustav’s paintings.
The Klimts were very poor, so they had fequent changes of address in search of progressively cheaper acommodation. In 1873, the situation worsened consideably for the economic crisis in Austria and as a result his father had no income at all for some time.
At school, Klimt’s talent was greatly apprecimated, and one of his relatives suggested to his mother he should apply for the School of Arts and Crafts.
Gustav entered the School of Arts and Crafts of Vienna at the age of fourteen. For seven years he learned, together with his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch, the most diverse techniques, from mosaics to fresco. The trio was so talented their professors let them work on their own decoration projects. Klimt’s style in those years was hyperrealistic, inspired by the work of Hans Makart, one of the most famous painters of the day.
However, he was not intimidated by the intense opposition. Instead, Klimt painted Goldfish. The painting only increased general criticism. It is dominated by a naked female showing her behind to the spectator. It is said that klimt wanted to call the painting To my Critics, which is easy to believe.
The scandal the University project provoked made him realize public assignments were not compatible with his artistic freedom. These paintings were his last government commissions, signifying a radical change in his career. From this moment on, Klimt unwillingly became a rebel.
From 1891 until 1897, Klimt had been a member of the Cooperative Society of Artists, a very conservative organization, and membership was essential to every artist determined to make a living . In 1897 Klimt and other members thought that this society had exerted an unfortunate influence on Austrian art and so they formed their own group named the Association of Austrian Visual Artists, widely known as the Secession.
The Secession had three main aims: provide to young artists with regular opportunities to exhibit their work; to bring to Vienna the best foreign artists; and to publish its own magazine, Ver Sacrum.
There were several paintings that announced a change in Klimt’s career. The first was a work that Klimt produced for the rich industrialist Nikolaus Dumba. In 1899 he asked Makart, Matsch and Klimt to decorate three rooms in his villa. Klimt was responsible for the music room and he painted Music II and Shubert at the Piano. Nuda Veritas, painted in the same year, includes a quotation from the dramatist Schiller: “If you cannot please everyone with your art, please a few. To please many is bad”. Klimt, who had previously worked hard to please his public, now acknowledged no standards but his own.
In 1892 Klimt and Matsch were commisioned by the Ministry of Culture and Education to decorate the Great Hall of the University, representing the four traditional faculties: Theology, Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Medicine. Klimt was to paint the last three. In 1900 Klimt presented Philosophy to the critics and public in general, which were disappointed and offended by this first panel.
Klimt provoked new scandals with his allegories Medicine and Jurisprudence, the second and third of his paintings for the Faculty. Congress conducted a poll and Klimt was incriminated for “pornography” and “excessive perversion”.
Klimt did have a lifelong female companion: Emilie Flöge, who was the sister of his brother’s widow. A very attractive and sophisticated woman, Emilie ran a fashion salon in Vienna where she designed and sold clothing and accessories. She and Klimt, who was old enough to be her father, saw one another almost daily, but there is no evidence that their relationsip was in any was sexual. In fact, among the many postcards he sent to her throughout his life, not one is even remotely intimate. Emilie Flöge remained devoted to Klimt throughout his life and even after his death.
While getting dressed in his room on January 11, 1918, Klimt suffered a stroke. It was something he had feared all his life. And although not serious, the stroke paralyzed the right side of his body, including his right hand which he used for painting, but it did not deprive him of the power of speech. He desperately asked for Emilie Flöge’s presence. He was immediately admittetd to the hospital, where he is said to have greeted a visiting nephew with the words: ‘Well, just look at me lying here. I can't do anything more with my right hand and do you know what annoys me most? That I helplessly have to put up with being looked after by women!’
Less than a month later, Klimt was struck by the pneumonia epidemica ravaging Vienna at the time and died on February 6, 1918.
Klimt was buried in Hietzing cemetery on February 10. The state donated the grave and the ceremony was attended by many national and municipal representatives. A choir from the Hofoper sang Shubert and Beethoven. Most Viennese newspapers marked Klimt’s passing with unambiguous tributes to the artist who had not only revived Viennese painting but had also put it on the international map.
Klimt’s death a few months before the end of World War I might have been a blessing in disguise. His world had been completely transformed and art was considered less relevant than ever before. The Habsburg Empire had fallen with the end of the great war in 1918. Romania and Yugoslavia became independent states and Klimt’s beloved Austria was reduced to a small and insignificant republic, and Vienna began its submersion in the nostalgia for its golden age.
Nuda Veritas, 1899
Although Gustav Klimt never married or committed to one woman, he did have numerous lovers and seemed to have an insatiable sexual appetite. At the time, artist’s models were looked upon with little more respect than common prostitutes and, apparently, many of those who posed for Klimt were at one time or another his lovers. Visitors to his studio were often surprised to find at least two or three women lounging there in their underwear. Klimt’s sensual works depicting naked and often aroused women provide a clear insight into his attitude towards sexuality and women.
After Klimt’s death, at least 14 people came forth and claimed to be his natural children. At least three of these children had been recognized by Klimt himself during his lifetime: Gustav Ucicky, son of Maria Ucicka, a washerwoman from Prague who had modeled for Klimt, and Gustav and Otto Zimmermann, sons of Mizzi Zimmermann, a model.
Among the other women in Klimt’s life, a few stand out as unique. Adele Bloch-Bauer, unlike his other mistresses, enjoyed a respectable reputation as a member of Viennese high society.
Emilie Floge, 1907
Top: Gustav Klimt’s grave
Bottom: Klimt’s death mask
1916 - Pencil
1910 - Pencil, red crayon
1914 - Blue crayon
1880 - Pencil
Portrait of an Old Man
1887 - Pencil
1909 - Red crayon
1912 - Pencil
Woman with Legs Open
1909 - Pencil
Nude with Clasped Hands
1914 - Pencil, red and white crayon
Reclining Male Nude
1911 - Red crayon
1908 - Pencil
1879 - Pencil
a Little Girl
1906 - Pencil
1911 - Pencil
of a Man
1913 - Pencil
Unknown - Pencil
Unknown Nude Couple
1882 - Pencil and crayon
Study for Juliet
1904 - Pencil and Chalk
1912 - Pencil and red crayon
1898 - Pencil
1885 - Pencil
Study of a Head
1902 - Pencil
The Secession II
1911 - 1918
Gustav Klimt is without a doubt the most important artist to have emerged from Vienna at the end of the 19th Century. His paintings constitute the perfect divide between traditional and modern, figurative and non-figurative. His often erotic portraits and sexually-charged sketches, his richly patterned landscapes and allegorical compositions, are at the same time seductive and refined and to this day remain among the most recognized and popular works of art in the world.
1897 - 1905
1901 - 1910
1876 - 1896
Later Years I
The Secession I
Later Years II
1896 - Oil on canvas
Portrait of Marie Breunig
Portrait of a Lady
Woman in Green
1888-1889 - Watercolor, gouche, heightened with gold
Auditorium in the Old Burgtheater
1894 - Oil on canvas
1906 - 1918
1884 - Oil on canvas
Portrait of Josef Lewinsky
Study for a Theatre Curtain
1890 - Oil on canvas
Portrait of Joseph Pembaur
Portrait of Emilie Flöge
1895 - Oil on canvas
1891 - Crayon on cardboard
1896 - Pencil, chalk on paper
Portrait of Emilie Flöge
1885 - Oil on canvas
1886-1888 - Oil on stucco base
1883 - Oil on canvas
Theatre in Taormina
1898 - Oil on canvas
1900 - Oil on Canvas
1897 - Pencil, chalk on paper
1902 - Oil on canvas
Portrait of Sonja Knips
1902 - Casein on stucco
1900 - Oil on canvas
Rose von Rosthorn-Friedmann
1899 - Oil on canvas
Portrait of Helene
1901 - Oil on canvas
Water in Motion
Portrait of Serena Lederer
1898 - Pencil, watercolor on paper
1902 - Casein in stucco
Island on Lake Attersee
Allegory of Sculpture
1905 - Tempera, watercolor, gold, silver, bronze, crayons, pencil, white gold leaf and silver leaf on brown paper
Roses Among Trees
1903 - Oil on canvas
1905 - Oil on canvas
1902 - Oilon canvas
1905 - Oil on canvas
1903 - Oil on canvas
1905 - Tempera, watercolor, gold, silver, bronze, crayons, pencil, white gold leaf and silver leaf on brown paper